Thursday, September 17, 2009

Is PBS' "Newshour" Becoming MSNBC? Gwen Ifill Cites "Tea Baggers"

The "Newshour" program on PBS had a segment on race in the debate about Pres. Obama's "health care reform" (link to transcript). It's worth a look, but one comment by the moderator, Gwen Ifill, prompted me to send them the following response:

IFILL: "So whether it's Jeremiah Wright or Henry Louis Gates, Jr., or what Jimmy Carter said about this, the Tea Baggers or whoever, it's always going to be with us?"

I found myself outraged at Ms. Ifill, during the round table about race in the health care debate, when she used the words "tea baggers" to describe the "tea party" movement. In what was otherwise a reasoned debate about the language used, and it's effect on people of African heritage, she chose to use a derogatory term for another group of Americans. "Tea Party" protesters come in all colors and political stripes, but from what I've seen, they're mostly Caucasian conservatives. After I stopped yelling at my TV, I had to appreciate the irony. Apparently, it's all in the "ear of the listener," whether something is offensive or not. I'm sure Ms. Ifill wasn't intending to offend anyone, but perhaps she needs to be "educated" about different sensibilities than her own. "Teabagging" is a slang reference to a sex act, and a "teabagger" is a person who performs that act. I expect that kind of crude reference on MSNBC, but not on the NEWSHOUR.

I have been a viewer since it was the half-hour "Report," back in the seventies. I am also an admirer of Ms. Ifill's, which is why I am writing this note to her. I hope she understands that my feelings are just as valid as hers, and everyone else's. I'm no fan of political correctness, but in a debate about sensitivity to language, her choice of words was a glaring example of insensitivity to people who are part of the "Tea Party" movement. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts.

I don't really think that the Newshour is slipping to the shoddy level of journalism practiced on MSNBC, but it's a "slippery slope," as they say. Once this kind of slur is considered "acceptable," who knows what will be next. PBS does broadcast Bill Moyers, who is barely a notch above MSNBC on the "partisan" scale. I'd hate to see the Newshour slide any further down that path than they already have. It seems a small thing, but perhaps I haven't been pointing out examples like this often enough, because I do like the show, and have been such a long time viewer.

You're back on my "radar," Newshour, and I intend to hold your feet to the fire.

PS: I thought I'd share this excerpt from James Taranto's "Best of the Web Today" column, to further instruct Ms. Ifill:

De-Klein and Fall

We can't swear that anyone has paid attention to Time magazine's Joe Klein since the Clinton years, but we had a laugh at this item of his on the opposition to ObamaCare and other big-government proposals:

My sense of the teabaggers is more complicated: they are primarily
working-class, largely rural and elderly white people. They are freaked by the
economy. They are also freaked by the government spending--TARP, the stimulus
package etc.--that was necessary to avoid a financial collapse. (I'm not sure
Keynes is taught in very many American high schools.) But most of all, they are
freaked by an amorphous feeling that they America they imagined they were living
in--Sarah Palin's fantasy America--is a different place now, changing for the
worse, overrun by furriners of all sorts: Latinos, South Asians, East Asians, say nothing of liberated, uppity blacks.

He imagines that critics of President Obama are not only racist but, to use that ugly bit of academic jargon, homophobic--and he makes this assertion in the same breath as he derides them with the antigay slur "teabaggers."

Oh well, Klein is in his seventh decade. Maybe he's just too much of a fuddy-duddy to be up on gay slang.

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